21 December 2011

Gear Review: Xcel Infiniti Wetsuit and Panasonic Lumix TS3 Waterproof Camera

OK, so once again, I've gotten behind on my gear reviews. But better late than never - and of course I had to give a fair trial period anyway.

I bought a size 4 women's Xcel Infiniti 4/3 back in October, but didn't start wearing it regularly until last month when the weather and water turned colder. It's been keeping me toasty, but I have a few complaints, and design-wise, it just doesn't measure up against my Rip Curl Insulator. The legs are too long, so the suit bunches around my knees. (Wish I'd noticed this in the store.) Unlike the Rip Curl, the key pocket is located under the chest-zip flap. It has a long elastic string loop which is convenient, but I prefer the leg placement. The chest zip goes awkwardly from right to left and is quite difficult to fasten with gloved hands. I have to start it before I put on a glove, then lock the car and attach the key, stuffing it with some difficulty into the pocket, before zipping up all the way. Or else ask a friend for help. But the biggest failure compared to the Rip Curl Insulator is the lack of an integrated hood. At a comparable cost, it's a glaring omission. A cap leaves my neck exposed and chilly, while my extended hood tends to get pulled out of the suit in the course of a surf session. By contrast, Rip Curl's design zips in the hood and secures it firmly under the suit, keeping my hair mostly dry and blocking water flush through the neck opening. I'm rather dreading the near-freezing dawn patrols to come in my Xcel. In sum, while some of my friends have said their Xcel suits lasted more than one season, I can't see this being a repeat purchase for me. Looking ahead, I've heard very good things about local Montara-based Isurus and they are planning to start a women's line next year. If Isurus makes a winter wetsuit in my size, I'll be first in line. (Update 8/17/12: The Xcel is still keeping me warm and partly dry after the better part of a year. I wish I could combine the fit and features of the Rip Curl with the durability of the Xcel. But in wetsuits, warmth is king, so the Infiniti is back to the top of the list.)

After my Pentax Optio W90 died in October (never again, Pentax!), I picked up a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3. It's a step up from the Pentax cameras, with extra features like GPS tagging (which gets my location right most of the time). I like that there is a dedicated record button, so I don't have to dig around through menus to switch from taking photos to taking video. With the camera strapped into the latest version of the Wrist Pod, I've been getting good on-the-water and at-the-beach shots while keeping it secure between times. I have noticed some occasional random blurriness in photos that doesn't seem to correlate with any moisture on the lens (one of a series of shots may be affected), but on the whole, it's working well. My only issue, which is a factor with all of the waterproof cameras I've tried, is that it's quite difficult to press small buttons while wearing gloves any thicker than 1.5 mm. I've missed some shots, or in desperation had to ask a gloveless friend to turn the camera on for me. Guess maybe I'll have to let one hand be cold in a thin glove, or design some sort of stylus to press the button. You'd think the waterproof camera manufacturers might make "buttons useable with gloves" a design parameter though, wouldn't you?! (Update 8/17/12: Despite being totally anal about keeping the seals clean and carefully following the other care instructions - except the one about letting the camera dry completely before opening to remove the SD card - the connector ports have both corroded. I don't use them anyway, but still. Worse  are the occasional malfunctions, like turning off immediately after the "on" button is pressed. It's started to take a blurry picture before recording any video, which also sometimes begins blurry. I have the feeling it's on it's last legs, and not even a year old yet.)

Photos/video below taken with the Panasonic Lumix TS3.
Dawn patrol at the Jetty
Free dolphins off Oahu

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